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J-Pop Star Shinjiro Atae On The Backlash & Joys Of Coming Out, 'It Was Very Terrifying'

J-Pop Star Shinjiro Atae On The Backlash & Joys Of Coming Out, 'It Was Very Terrifying'

Japanese Pop Star Shinjiro Atae On Coming Out: "Somebody Has To Do It"
Nina Menconi

"Some of my fans were like, ‘I still love you, but I can’t accept that you’re gay,’” he told PRIDE.

@andrewjstillman


Japanese Pop Star Shinjiro Atae On Coming Out: Somebody Has To Do It"

Japanese Pop Star Shinjiro Atae On Coming Out: "Somebody Has To Do It"

Nina Menconi

Coming out in front of 2,000 people is hard. Doing so to an audience situated in Japan, a country not exactly known for its LGBTQ+ support, is even more difficult. Back in July, however, that’s exactly what Japanese pop star Shinjiro Atae did to let the whole world know exactly who he was.

“It was very terrifying,” Atae admits to PRIDE. “I was almost going to leave the venue before going on the stage because I was freaking out. You know, in Japan, nobody does that. Nobody comes out to the public. So I felt really nervous, but then I was like, ‘Why do I have to do this? Because someone has to.’”

Formerly a member of co-ed J-Pop group AAA, Atae has been part of the public eye since they debuted back in 2005. He started releasing his first solo music in 2018, which added a difference sense of responsibility on his shoulders.

“When it comes to a group, there’s a level of camaraderie,” he says. “Now that I work more as a solo artist, I’ve realized there’s more responsibility, and I am really out on my own.”

Being in front of the 2,000-strong crowd on that fateful day in July was also the first time Atae had been in front of a live audience in over three years due to COVID, and it’s been almost five since he’s had a chance to perform.

In terms of coming out, Atae says it started out being a weight lifted, but ended in depression.

Shinjiro Atae

Nina Menconi

“My parents took it really well,” he says. “I cried so much reading the letter. But looking back, I was really kind of depressed around that time. Like before I came out and after, because I kind of lost myself after. I didn’t know what to do. I was totally lost and that took me like two or three months to overcome. Now, I want to sing and dance and talk and do whatever because I finally got my energy back.”

Upon coming out, Atae also released a new single called "Into the Light" to let fans in a little more into the intimate experience it was to stand in his authenticity in the world.

Atae returned to his home in Los Angeles after coming out, saying he mentally couldn’t stay in Japan because of the news and the potential backlash. In reality, he received plenty of love along with the hate, but reactions across the board were generally mixed.

“Although my parents took it well, some of my fans were like, ‘I still love you, but I can’t accept that you’re gay.’”

Part of the reason fans struggle so hard is Atae’s status as a Japanese icon, where people feel like he “belongs” to them in a sense and feels their hearts broken or that they’ve lost him.

“In the future, hopefully they’ll accept and support me, you know?” he says. “It got me down for a few months. I didn’t want to meet anyone new or talk. But now, deciding to make more music, I’m doing things I’ve never done, like cover songs and things like that.”

Among those is a cover of Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” which Atae released on his birthday. Part of what attracted him to this song actually had to do with him breaking away from being part of a group.

“I didn’t have confidence singing because when I was in a group, there’s always a comparison,” he says. “Mentally, I didn’t want to be judged like that, but after I left my company and am working more independently, I actually enjoy singing and as long as my fans enjoy it, too, that’s all that matters. And Sam Smith inspires me in a lot of ways. They’re very confident and live authentically to who they are and showcase who they are as a person.”

As fans come more to terms with Atae’s sexuality, his voice is starting to spread around Japan a little more, too. He recently served as a keynote speaker for Work with Pride, saying it felt “a little weird” because, although the organization wants to make the world better, “most of them are straight.”

It was also the first time Atae had gone back to Japan since coming out, as he didn’t feel confident talking about his sexuality immediately following coming out. Now, however, he says, “I feel really honored and also very confident. This most recent trip back to Japan reminded me of my sense of purpose in life, because in Japan, there are still so many LGBTQ issues. Everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re the first gay guy,’ but no, anyone in your friends or family might be gay or LGBTQ, but they can’t come out. So, with me coming out, everyone talks about it, which is a good thing.”

Moving forward, Atae recently recorded two new songs with American producers and is putting a lot of his new life experiences into the songwriting process. He’s also ringing in the new year on December 31 with his first live performance in three years.

“It’s been three years since I last performed, but five since I heard the audience scream,” he says. “In Japan, we did a tour three years ago, but because of COVID, no one was allowed to scream, so it was a quiet concert. This will be the first time I’m actually hearing the audience go wild in a long time.”

Apart from new music and a possible new tour in 2024, there’s also a documentary in the works about his life produced by Fisher Stevens and Peter Farley.

“They’ve been filming me since last September,” he says. “They’re coming back with me to Japan in December and then starting to edit. I don’t know if it’s going to be successful or not, but I’ve been very thankful. I just hope that whenever it comes out, people are reminded that they’re not alone in life.”

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Andrew J. Stillman

Contributing Writer for Pride.com

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at andrewjstillman.com or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.